Friday, January 8, 2010

Coldest Day in England

It has been very cold here... by British standards,’ I said to my husband smugly. But, we have been in parts of the world that have been much colder, I thought to myself.

New Hampshire, for one; our first tiny apartment together in that rickety, two-hundred and fifty year old house. The winter of ‘93/’94 was horribly frigid. And then there was that Christmas we spent in gorgeous Quebec City with my parents. It was so cold that, after being outside for just a minute or two, our hunched, contracted back muscles would begin to ache. And I still remember the blizzard of ’76, in Ohio. Five feet of perfect igloo-making snow was gloriously laid down for us kids. After school had been closed for two full weeks, I'm certain my mother must have wanted to jump out the windows of our one story ranch and make a slippery run for it.

Yes, I fancied myself a sort of cold-weather expert. I could handle anything Jack Frost threw my way, or so I thought.

Our narrow farm lanes had been iced over for about a week and were treacherous enough to limit our outings to those of absolute necessity (grocery store, pet shop for guinea pig food, that sort of thing). Then two days ago we awoke to the most beautiful dumping of snow. At least six inches; which, as I said before, is huge for this part of England. We were officially snowed in and planned on making the most of this climatic anomaly. Sturdy snowmen, fantastic igloos and snow ball forts. We had a ball shoveling, mounding and patting together a small, icy village.

That night, after a warm dinner and a hot shower, we all settled into bed early, completely exhausted.

The next morning, Jeff woke me up abruptly saying, ‘You’d better get up. The pipes have frozen, we have no water—I’m not sure what to do’ Hmmm, this was something we have not yet encountered in our cold-weather experience. But, no worries—so what if we can’t get water, we don’t need to shower (we weren’t going anywhere), we could just drink juice or soda all day (rather than coffee, tea and hot cocoa) and boil snow to cook pasta in. It would be fun, like Little House on the Prarie!

It wasn’t until after Jeff had left for work and the girls and I were finishing off our fry-up of bacon, eggs and toast, washed down by two or three glasses of orange juice that I realized the full effect of not having water—five people and not one flushing toilet.

In an exaggerated sense of decorum, I will refrain from any further details.

Camille, my ten year old was very helpful. She attended to the boiling pot of snow and consistently checked the taps all around the house to see if any water was dribbling out. Getting water into our house became her project

At long last, Sean the plumber showed up and got down to the work of thawing our frightfully frozen pipes. After having removed the drywall in the downstairs loo, he found the culprit pipe and warmed it slowly with a hairdryer. Our tea cups and toilet bowls would soon be flooded with water! This wasn’t so bad, I thought...smuggly.

After an hour or so, the kitchen tap began to sputter water, then slowly but steadily the flow increased from a trickle to a steady stream. We all hugged Sean, the plumber and I made him a celebratory cup of tea (I’ve learned that Brits really do drink a lot of tea). After our tea party (PG Tips for Sean, peppermint for the girls and green tea for me), I headed upstairs to grab a sweater. That’s when I heard it—the powerful charge of running water. I stopped in my tracks, turning my head in the direction of the sound— the bathroom off the playroom. I ran in and saw that the bathtub, used to store the girls' stuffed animals, was over-flowing with water—brown bears, pink bunnies and white lambs were bobbing and sinking as they sucked up the water like giant, furry sponges.

HOLY CRAP!' I yelled. I ran to the stairs and yelled down to Camille, ‘Camee, come up here, quick!’ She ran up and gasped in horror as she crossed the threshold of the bathroom. ‘Ohhhhhhh, Mommy! I thought I turned this tap off!’ I shut off the water and we got down to the task of attempting to wring out the bloated animals.

Camille began to cry, but before I could even try to comfort her, Claire (my oldest) and the twins began screaming from downstairs in the family room. ‘Momma!’ (every mother knows the difference in the cries of her children, i.e. serious or frivolous—these were cries of the most serious nature). I ran, skidding down the stairs. As I rounded the corner into the family room and took in the sight of water pouring from the ceiling onto the floor and all of the furniture. ‘SHIT!’ I screamed, oblivious to whether or not my children heard me, but I am sure they did.

I ran back upstairs, past Camille (sobbing into a soggy giraffe), and sprinted into my bathroom, which sits directly above the family room. Camille had left the taps to both the bath tub and the sink on. They were over-flowing. The carpeted floor was flooded. I shut off the water and stood there, trying to catch my breath, having no idea what to do next. ‘Mommy!!! The water—it’s making big puddles in the family room!’ I ran back downstairs, swinging by the kitchen on my way to the family room and grabbed as many mixing bowls and buckets as I could carry.

Arranging them on the floor, my girls and I tried to dry off the furniture, but there were only so many towels in the house.

I looked at Camille. Her eyes were as flooded as the bath tubs, tears spilling down onto her flushed cheeks. ‘It was trying to help...I thought leaving the taps on would get the water to flow. I’m sorry, Mommy!' She sobbed.

I looked at her and paused. In my exasperation I didn't want to say anything unkind. ‘Camille, it was an accident.’ I hugged her tight. ‘You know, you’ll never forget this. You’re sort of an expert in frozen pipes now. When you grow up and live in your own house, you’ll know what to do, and what not to do when the weather turns very cold.’ She looked up and smiled just a little. Unable to keep a straight face I continued, 'But you know, as a mother of limited maturity, I will mock you about this for the rest of your life.'

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